Zinester College Class of 2002 Commencement

excerpted from Bill Tuomala’s speech on June 2nd, 2002


Okay, some words of warning to all you up-and-coming zinesters. Because you are a writer who is constantly (self-)

publishing your work, you will be recognized as having a voice. This will result in the non-zinester writers out there wanting to be your friend. They will want you to spend time with them. They will tell you that writing is a lonely gig, that only by socializing with other writers can you truly be part of a community that will understand and nurture you. It’s twisted, insular thinking; but it’s usually best just to suck it up and deal with these people. Yes, even anti-social Bill Tuomala occasionally meets with other writers, and they for the most part are good people. Being writers, they read a lot and can generally recommend something good to read. And every blue moon they will actually talk about writing – craft and process and the like and you might actually glean a few nuggets before their conversation lapses into a discussion on pitching your idea.


Pitching what? Don’t ask … just be on the alert when you hear it, because you’re about to be browbeaten with a bunch of other words that will keep you from writing your masterpieces. Yes, beware – because when hanging out with the other writers, there will be all kinds of distracting words and phrases that they’ll throw at you. Words and phrases like submission, grant, manuscript, contest, cover letter, proposal. The words are all kind of stale and blend together. They are code words used in discussions that actually have little to do with WRITING, and your favorite zinester mostly tries to avoid this type of scene altogether.


The one topic you will hear about more than any other from writers is some variation of “published.” Did it get published, when will it be published, have you been published, I’ve been published in a variety of publications, I can’t believe he/she is getting a book published. You’ll hear this over and over because writers love seeing their pieces in print. I know I do. Yes, writers love to get published, even if they don’t get paid much. Ironically, this is the other topic you will constantly hear about: payment. More specifically: lack of payment. They don’t pay, they expect me to write for free, I don’t make any money doing this, We live in an unfair society where artists don’t get compensated, etc, etc. And this is where it starts to get creepier. Because during the talk of lack of money, during the bitter comments about getting denied the dough that is rightfully theirs, one of my fellow writers will pityingly look at me and tell me that I should get paid for my writing. Which I of course find a great idea. But ninety percent of the books I read I get from the library and I throw my zine for free out there on the web, so I’m not exactly down with the solidarity of the cause.


But worrying about the green keeps you from sweating out the next zine, so make peace early with your lack of cash flow and you can thank me later. And when the writers attempt to defy a market economy by saying that I should make a living off of my writing, I generally feign agreement and say I’m trying to find a way to market myself. Then they throw more confounding words at me like target audience, and I nod and smile and don’t tell them about my cult following or all the presents my readers send me – I’m not sure they understand that language of love anyway.


So before I move on to the good stuff in this speech, just remember: If you’re sitting around talking about your query letter, you’re not getting any writing done. When you’re networking – yes, these are a couple of more you’ll hear – you’re not getting any writing done. And also remember this: If someone buys you a drink because of something that you’ve written, you’re doing something right…




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